Arts, Culture & Media

Crowd favorites among This American Life's last 500 episodes

Ira Glass marks the 500th episode of This American Life. (Photo courtesy of This American Life.)

This American Life, distributed by PRI, celebrates its 500th episode this weekend with a special episode looking back at some of the team's favorite segments from the years of broadcast.

Here at, we wanted to mark the milestone by celebrating the episodes and segments that you all, our fans and followers on social media, remembered most.

Some of them are recent, like the Harper High episodes (which coincidentally also appeared on Ira Glass' favorites list) and others date back just a little further.

We got dozens of suggestions and while we, perhaps naively, expected certain episodes to rise to the top, almost to a one, each person had a different suggestion. Perhaps that suggests have there's something about every episode that will connect with someone in the audience.

Onto what we'll loosely call the favorites, though clearly there are dozens of favorites and if you spent 500 hours listening to back episodes of This American Life, your life would probably be better for it.

In no particular order (other than when they got at least a second vote):


Episode #465: What Happened At Dos Erres

In 1982, the Guatemalan military massacred the villagers of Dos Erres, killing more than 200 people. Thirty years later, a Guatemalan living in the US got a phone call from a woman who told him that two boys had been abducted during the massacre -- and he was one of them. 


Episode #203: Recordings for Someone

All the stories in this week's show center on personal recordings that one person made for just one other person. (Also known as the episode with the Greatest Voicemail Ever.)

Editor's note: We think you all liked this one so much, and it probably got more nominations than any other here, because of its repeated, bleeped use of the F-bomb.


Episode #193: Stories of Loss

In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a collection of stories in which people try to make sense of loss.


Episode #492: Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Benjamin Gilmer (left) gets a job at a rural clinic. He finds out he’s replaced someone — also named Dr. Gilmer (picture) — who went to prison after killing his own father. But the more Benjamin’s patients talk about the other Dr. Gilmer, the more confused he becomes. Everyone loved the old Dr. Gilmer. So Benjamin starts digging around, trying to understand how a good man can seemingly turn bad.


Episode #47: Christmas and Commerce

Stories about the intersection of Christmas and retail, including David Sedaris's story "Santaland Diaries," which was first broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition many years ago in a much shorter version.


Episode #449: Middle School

This week, at the suggestion of a 14-year-old listener, we bring you stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school. Including a teacher who transforms peer pressure into a force for good, and reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance.


Episode #487 and #488: Harper High School, Part One and Two

We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories, this show is a two-parter.


This American Life's 500th episode debuts this weekend on public radio stations across the country. Find our when and where to listen at This American Life's website. It will be available online on Sunday.

Leave more suggestions for your favorite This American Life episodes in the comments below.

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